In September I wrote two articles about the life of Bill Montgomery entitled “Treasurers Among Us”. In October, Barb and I attended Bill’s memorial service. After sweet memories and songs presented by members of Bill’s family and friends, an extraordinary talk was given by one of his friends. It moved me so much that I asked permission of the family and the speaker to share a summary of that speech with you. Following are the main points of the speech.
That was quite a story (of Bill Montgomery). What a lucky man he was. He certainly had better fortune than some of you have had didn’t he? No wonder he is a saint, he earned it. Well, that’s what you might think after our time of sharing. Our memories of Bill are precious but I have it on good authority that on the day he was born, he was born separated from God and bound for an eternity in hell, except for the grace of God.
Psalm 116:15 says this: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” We’ve talked a lot about Bill’s good works and generosity. But I’m not sure that I completely understand that verse: Precious in the sight of the Lord is Bill’s death. When we think about death and dying, there certainly are a number of other words that come to mind that are more appropriate. Words like profound. Profound is the death of a saint. I never used to give death too much thought when I was younger but you know I’m getting there. And you begin to think more and more about it and what it entails. I remember the progression through my life of going from fear to faith every time they would roll me down the aisle to the operating room I’d say: “Lord if this is the day, thank you. Thank you, I don’t have to be afraid if I have surgery.” But we seem to spend a lot of time thinking about the sorrow, pain and suffering. We dread dying a certain way. God has a completely different viewpoint when it comes to His children. You might sit there and say: “Bill was such a good saint, how come God let him suffer so much?” Didn’t our Savior suffer for us? He never promised us a life without suffering. But, from the moment we came into existence in this life, God had His eye on the date of our death because precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of the saints. Precious is defined as something costly. Something very valuable and I think it’s interesting that this word is applied to our death. Did you ever spend much time to figure out why you’re here? The older I get, the more I wonder. I should have done this or I should have gone that way. But, in the Lord’s sight, he holds the succession of life as something very, very precious. One translation of this verse suggests the death of a saint is precious because it’s costly to God for a Christian to die. God hates to see it. He hates to see His children suffer. In fact one translation actually says this: “How painful it is to the Lord when one of His people dies.” But I have a problem with that. My Lord says: “Precious in His sight is our death.” I think because it costs God something radically misses the point of this simple verse.
Do you think it was painful to God that Bill Montgomery passed from this life into His very presence? Do you really think it was painful that he is with the Lord? To be with Christ is far better than anything that we could know in this life, so it certainly wasn’t painful to Bill nor was it painful to God. Do you think it was painful to God to have Bill, who was born a sinner, be redeemed by the grace of God? He struggled with sin all his life just as we all do, but now he has been made perfect. I don’t think that is painful to God. I think the pain is what we feel. It’s not what God feels or what Bill Montgomery feels at this point in his journey. His death is precious to God and valuable to God; so valuable as to be beyond price; the kind of thing that you treasure. Another translation of this verse says: “His loved ones are very precious to Him so He does not lightly let them die.” God has his eye on His children wherever they are. Whether they are doing well or poorly; whether they are pleasing Him or are rebelling; whether they are young or old; whether they feel forgotten or they feel close to God. In fact, scripture says: “He has His children as the apple of His eye.” And the time when a person leaves this earth to go home to be with the Savior is a very special time to God and He doesn’t leave that up to chance. Rather, he plans for his children’s deaths and works towards that end. God does not treat Bill’s death as a light thing or a trivial event or in a casual way.
So, let me make a couple applications. No child of God ever dies before his or her time. Bill was 91 years old, getting up there the way we calculate things. But today all over the county, there are funerals of infants and small children who have died and they didn’t die one minute too early. And there are funerals for people much older than Bill. A year ago I buried my uncle, who lived to be 95. I told him it was time to die. And he said: “You’re not God!” He didn’t die one minute late because God saw his death as something of great value, precious, not something he leaves to chance.
Secondly, the circumstances surrounding Bill’s death weren’t accidental. You’ve heard the details. It wasn’t an accident, it wasn’t bad luck. There is no detail too small in the sight of God who prepares the way for His child to come home. And how we die is in the hands of the loving Father, who views our death as precious. Bill’s death is precious because God gave him the grace to die just as He gave him the grace to go on living. What a joy to see that. And Bill’s death is precious because he is now complete. A year or so ago my wife and I visited the Billy Graham museum in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Ruth Graham is buried. Her grave stone consists of a simple stone dug out of a construction site. It’s just a slab of rock and on the rock are these words: “Construction Completed. Thank you for your patience.” And so it is with Bill. He’s been under construction for a long time but that construction is complete.
God didn’t just create Bill, He died for him; He bought him with His own blood and He began to build in him the very character of Jesus Christ. But now that construction is over and God sees the fruit of His labor. William Montgomery, Jr. is finally home.
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of the saints. Does it apply to you? Notice, it does not say precious in the sight of the Lord is anyone. Nor does it say precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of everyone. It specifically says it is for those who are called saints. Who is a saint? From God’s point of view a saint is anyone who comes to the place where they put their faith and trust in what Jesus Christ did on the cross as being sufficient payment for their sins. You see, we’ve heard so many good things but Bill isn’t in heaven today because he was a good son or a good brother or a good husband or a good father or a good grandfather. He isn’t in heaven because he is a person who went to church. He isn’t in heaven because he never sinned. Bill is in heaven because in a moment of time he committed his life by faith to Jesus Christ believing that Jesus Christ paid for his sins with his own death.
By death, Bill accepted that sacrifice on the cross as being sufficient to pay for his sins and by faith he received Christ’s righteousness and Christ’s forgiveness and he was given eternal life. As we face the reality of our own pending death, is it going to be a tragedy or will it be precious in the sight of our Lord? God invites you if you’ve never come to Him to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ that you too might experience eternal life.
Jeff Hall, of Honey Brook, contributes columns to Berks-Mont Newspapers. Questions/commentsmay be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org